A baseball card mystery: Reggie Smith and Ryno

Ryne Sandberg was a fine fielding, power-packed second baseman who is now an unquestioned member of the Hall of Fame. Reggie Smith was an underrated star whom some also regard as Cooperstown worthy.

When you combine them on an action shot featured as part of the excellent 1983 Topps set, you have yourselves a gem of a card.

Smith actually accumulated slightly more WAR during his career than Sandberg, 63.4 to 62. That might be a simplistic way to assess Smith’s case for the Hall of Fame, but there is little doubt that he was a superb all-round player who hit with power, batted for a good average, drew walks, stole bases, and played a strong right field, the latter ability reinforced by his cannon-like throwing arm. Smith didn’t even strike out all that much for a legitimate home run hitter, never accumulating more than 95 strikeouts in a single season. Clearly, Smith could do it all.


Even by the time this photograph was taken in 1982, toward the tail end of a 17-year career, Smith remained a productive player. Playing in 106 games for the 1982 Giants, Smith hit 18 home runs, reached base 36 percent of the time, and put up an OPS of .834.

Those kinds of numbers should have generated Smith a major league contract for the 1983 season, and while the Giants did make him an offer, they were outbid by the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese League, so Smith took his substantial talents to the Far East.

Yet, this particular baseball card mystery is not solely about Smith’s value as a player, as great as he was. (But feel free to debate his Hall of Fame case.) As usual, it’s about the card, always about the card.

We know that the photograph must have been taken in 1982, because that was Smith’s only season in San Francisco, and it also happened to be Sandberg’s first season as a Cub.

(In 1981, Sandberg played briefly for the Phillies, while Smith put in his final season in Dodger Blue, so that season is simply not a possibility for the card.)

We also know that the ballpark is Candlestick Park, as evidenced by Smith’s home white uniform and the iconic chain link fence in the right field background. And, of course, it is an afternoon game, with the sun shining brightly in the San Francisco sky.

Sandberg, who looks particularly thin in his age-22 season, is safely returning to first base on a pickoff attempt. So while we know that Sandberg somehow reached first base, we don’t know exactly how. It’s a good bet that since the Giants are attempting a pickoff at first, there is likely no runner at second base, and quite possibly no one at third.

Is this enough information to pin down the game and the inning when the photograph was taken? I’m not sure, but let’s give it a try.

Bruce Markusen has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.
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robert carlson
12 years ago

I caught the 3000 home run hit by the dodgers from when they came from Brooklyn Reggie Smith hit it i caught it in the right field seats They put me in the Dodger Blue Book w/ the Dodger mag.7..QWould like to see if i could get the video IT was the first night of the big screen over the out field

Michael Caragliano
12 years ago

The Cubs and Giants played four day games at the ‘Stick in 1982. I found a total of nine at bats, all of them resulting in singles, where Sandberg reached first in a day game with Smith playing there. If I had to take an educated guess, since it’s a pickoff attempt, there are two possibilities. In the top of the 1st and the top of the 8th of the September 1st game, Sandberg singled. The first time, Sandberg was caught stealing. The second time, Sandberg was picked off.

BTW, Bruce, you’re right about the iconic chain link fence. It pops up in several 1983 Topps cards, including Dave Bergman, Nolan Ryan and Fernando Valenzuela. One of my favorite cards is Goose Gossage’s 1978 Topps card, because it’s one of the few well-done examples of airbrushing. If you didn’t know Gossage pitched for the Pirates in 1977, you’d look at it and say, hey, when did the Yankees play in San Francisco?